Florida International U

Receiving duo gives FIU Panthers flexibility

FIU expects Thomas Owens to make the difficult catches across the middle and hold onto the ball in heavy traffic.
FIU expects Thomas Owens to make the difficult catches across the middle and hold onto the ball in heavy traffic. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

FIU’s offensive fortunes lie not only with the sophomores already in the sun — quarterback Alex McGeough, running backs Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell — but with two from last year’s shadows.

They’re all but lighting candles out in West Miami-Dade that wide receivers Thomas Owens and Dennis Turner can provide the size FIU needs in a possession receiver (Owens) and consistent go-long speed (Turner) lacking from FIU throughout coach Ron Turner’s two seasons.

“Dennis Turner’s picked it up,” Turner said. “T.O.’s picked up where he left off in the spring.”

Don’t be surprised if the first three wide receiver set of the season features Turner and Owens as the outside receivers with fifth-year senior Clinton Taylor in the slot. Or, a double tight end set with Owens and Taylor as the wideouts.

Since last season, coach Turner hung a lot of hopes on two players in which he saw potential as freshmen, if not production. Turner caught only 11 passes for 89 yards in 12 games. Owens got into only seven games.

But coach Turner figured Dennis Turner just needed more familiarity with the offense to allow himself to play at his top speed.

“I know the offense like the back of my hand now,” said Dennis Turner, a Fort Lauderdale Dillard graduate. “It’s much easier now. I knew the offense. It’s just at a different speed.”

Dennis Turner also knew he needed more mass. He is 175 pounds now after playing at 165 as a freshman. Conversely, Owens tried to add speed in the offseason.

Though not as abysmal on third down as 2013’s nation’s worst 23 percent, FIU’s 32.1 percent third down conversion rate still ranked 117th and left the Panthers too often calling out an erratic punt team. Owens’ size clearly helps there, as well as the body positioning that eliminates surprise when he says he rebounded well playing on his high school basketball team’s front line.

Turner calls Owens “T.O.” and the wide receiver wears No. 81 — the same as former NFL star Terrell Owens. Also, like the NFL Owens, whose trainer called him “the world’s largest ectomorph,” FIU’s Owens carries the kind of torso thickness to shield a defender from the ball or take the punishment on a crossing route.

And, as for dealing with quarterbacks who don’t get them the ball enough…OK, that’s where they’re about as alike as sardines and trout.

From Jeff Garcia to Donovan McNabb to Tony Romo, Terrell Owens career seemed to be two parts SportsCenter, one part Divorce Court. Thomas Owens said he never gives a quarterback guff after playing quarterback his junior year at Delray Beach Atlantic.

“[The coaches] knew I could play receiver. My 11th grade year, they needed me at quarterback,” Owens said. “I guess they didn’t like the decisions the other quarterback was making. They were hearing that I could, but I never spoke up because it wasn’t my biggest role. But when I started playing quarterback, I made progress and we started winning games. My senior year, I started there, but didn’t finish there because I had an ankle injury. It took me out for four games.”

He returned to the wide receiver spot and chose FIU because “they stayed with me, even during the times they weren’t my first choice.”

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